I have had the Sony HT-X8500 for a few weeks now. I purchased this, it wasn’t sent for review, I just out of the blue wanted a soundbar and even without hearing it in-store, made this impulse purchase. Did I make the right call, yes, 100%. Now I’ve been using it for a while, I thought I’d share my experience with it.

Spec & Features

  • 2.1ch Soundbar with build in subwoofers
  • Dolby Atmos & DTS:X compatable
  • Includes Sony’s Vertical Sound Engine
  • HDMI eARC
  • Dolby Vision / HDR / 4K/60P/YUV4:4:4
  • Optical input too!
  • Bluetooth 5.0
  • RRP £350

First Impressions

First impressions were very good. The soundbar measures in at 890mm long by 64mm high and 96mm deep, which sits well with my 50″ TV. It’s curvy, it’s sleek and has a very modest design. It has an almost leather look covering to the top and sides, with a metal grille to the front and one bass port at either end. To the top is a number of indicator lights and touch-sensitive buttons, which is used to control the soundbar. There is a remote control to make things a little easier but there is no display, which is one of the negatives but more on that later.

To the rear and within a little recessed area, are two HDMI ports, one being eARC and also an optical input. At the other end, on the back is where you plug in the power adapter. The soundbar comes with quite a chunky power adaptor, like some laptops used too, which surprised me. The soundbar can be wall-mounted and a paper guide for fixing is included. Also included in the box is an optical port, the remote, the fixing guide, and some general instructions. No HDMI cable which is disappointing.

Set Up

Set up was quite straight forward but there are a number of things to consider and think about when doing so, so make sure you check the instructions first. By that, I mean only certain audio formats work with certain arrangments.

If you want to utilise that Dolby Atmos or DTS:X, you need to use HDMI eARC, or optical cable, but the later will only give you Atmos, not X. If you go standard HDMI, you will not get access to Atmos or X but will be able to use older formats like Dolby Digital and standard DTS. Go for Bluetooth and your stuck with AAC format.

For my set up, I used a HDMI cable from TV into HDMI eARC on the soundbar and then added my PS4 into the soundbar via the spare HDMI slot. First time use, both worked a treat.

Now onto the first dilemma, Atmos or X content and how you’re going to get that. There are limited ways you can use Atmos or X right now and you need specific devices to access it. These include 4K blu ray players & some newer TV’s, Apple TV 4K, Xbox One’s, Fire Stick 4K and Sky Q. Without a compatible device and the correct cable arrangement, the soundbar won’t truly receive Atmos or X audio formats.

That’s the first limiting factor but the second is actually finding the content to watch. Other than a large variety of 4K blu ray discs, content is limited on major streaming services. Amazon, Netflix, they only offer a handful of movies or TV shows that offer the Atmos or X audio experience.

I set up the soundbar up, found some content on streaming services, along with a number of offical Dolby Atmos video files, sat back and tried the thing out.

Performance

My oh my! I’m very impressed with the performance of the HT-X8500. The dialogue in movies is crystal clear and actually loud enough so you can hear what people are saying. The bass is very good, considering this doesn’t come with a separate subwoofer. The bass blends in very well and although it didn’t rumble my sofa, it definitely packs a punch. It’s advertised as a 2.1 system but in fact, you can clearly see four drivers from the front, left, right, and two central bass drivers. Overall, it’s a fairly well balanced audio offering, at the mid to high volumes.

sony_HT8500_2

Along with Dolby Atmos and DTS:X support, the HT-8500 includes Sony’s Vertical Surround Engine, which allows the soundbar to process standard audio and upscale it to simulate a 7.1.2 surround sound effect. I’m just going to say it, the HT-X8500 does not offer a true Atmos or X experience, nothing ever truly will without speakers above and to the rear of the subject. I’ve been fortunate enough to experience true Atmos at the Dolby cinema in London and it was spectacular and was achieved by using 10/20/30 odd speakers I’m sure. This cannot replicate that experience.

That being said, I was actually surprised when I played one of the Atmos sample videos created by Dolby, that there was actually a sense of surround’ness around me. It did a fairly good job of simulating audio rotating around me but lacked on the vertical throw. Some say Atmos or X in a soundbar is a gimmick, I disagree, it definitely added to the surround sound experience for me but you know it’s not true Atmos or DTS:X. That Dolby sample has been perfectly crafted to offer the experience too, movies wont be as good.

The HT-X8500 is not just for movies, it caters for general TV, sports and gaming too. With the touch of a button, you can select one of these profiles and the sound will change to suit that content. There is also a night function, so if you have little kids and you don’t want to wake them, hit that and it brings everything down a bit so it’s not so distracting.

sony_HT8500_7

I listened to some music via the Bluetooth option and it was good and it will fill a room very easily, but it’s very directional. By that I mean you have to sit almost directly in front of it to get the best audio experience, as those speakers push the audio out directly in front of it. If you’re sitting elsewhere in the room, it’s prefectly fine but not as good.

A few gripes I have with the HT-X8500, with the first being the bass. Although I said it was very good earlier and it is, at the mid to high volumes, not 100% volume. Max the volume out and the soundbar cannot deliver enough bass and it’s very obvious. That’s when the separate subwoofer would be needed the most. Secondly, the controls and lack of a screen. The indicator lights work but it’s very easy to get in a muddle and can get lost in the process you’re trying to undertake. Some of the finer audio configurations require a number of button presses and it’s not the easiest. Lastly, it turns itself off! I would regularly pause whatever I’m watching, go back to it after 15/20 minutes, hit play, the content will play but there is no sound. I then need to turn the soundbar back on as it doesn’t sense the audio signal like it does when you first turn the TV on.

Verdict

Most stores retail this at under £300 and you may get one cheaper in a sale and at that price, it’s fantastic and worth every penny. It’s not perfect and there are better soundbars but at this price point, It will take some doing to beat it. Yes the Dolby Atmos & DTS:X is a bit of a flop but it definitely does add something to the experience, it’s just not a true representation of the multi-speaker, multi-directional experience.

Find out more about the HT-8500 from the official Sony webpage.